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USCG: Houston Ship Channel Moving Inbound Only

An aerial image of the houston Ship Channel and adjacent refining complex (AdobeStock / ©  Irina K

Shipping along the Houston Ship Channel was limited to one-way traffic on Monday after a barge collided with a deep-draft ship that spilled petrochemicals into the waterway over the weekend, officials said.

About 9,000 barrels of gasoline spilled into the channel near Bayport, Texas, when a 755-foot (230-m) tanker collided with a Kirby Inland Marine tugboat towing two barges containing the fuel. One barge ruptured and the other capsized. The one-way traffic limitation is due to the barges blocking part of the channel. Kirby Corp shares fell 3.9 percent on Monday.

No injuries were reported from the collision, but it could take days to remove both vessels and reopen full traffic. Officials expect to finish siphoning fuel from the first barge by Tuesday and then begin emptying the capsized, second barge, said J.J. Plunkett, port agent for the Houston Pilots Association, which guides ships through the channel.

Salvage efforts could last through the weekend to remove both barges and allow for a resumption of two-way traffic, Plunkett said.

It was the second time in five years that a Kirby Corp-operated vessel collided with a larger ship in the Houston Ship Channel.

In 2014, two Kirby-towed barges crossed in front of a container ship and the resulting collision spilled 4,000 barrels of marine fuel into the channel. The likely cause of that accident was the towboat captain's decision to cross the channel ahead of the container ship, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a 2015 report.

Kirby, which operates more than 1,000 tank barges and 340 tug boats across the United States, later agreed to settle U.S. Clean Water Act civil charges by paying a $4.9 million penalty and making operating improvements.

Kirby Corp declined to comment on the cause of the weekend incident. Spokesman Matt Woodruff said the company was cooperating with investigations by the U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB.

Forty-five ships exited the channel on Sunday and 65 were waiting on Monday morning to enter the 53-mile (85 km) waterway connecting the refining hubs of Houston and Texas City, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico, Plunkett said. On a normal day, 55 to 65 ships will be piloted through the channel, he added.

Kirby shares were off 3.9 percent at $79.85 in early afternoon trading. The Houston-based company reported a 2018 profit of $78.5 million on revenue of $2.97 billion.

Reporting by Erwin Seba and Collin Eaton

May 13, 2019



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